Recently, someone requested a meeting with me to chat about many things—from the nonprofit sector in general, to what the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits does, to ideas he had for the sector that he wanted to run by me. As I sat and waited for him to arrive at our meeting, one thought kept going through my head: ‘He is expecting to meet with an adult, but he’ll get here and see me – a kid (even though I’m 27). What business do I have being here?’ It’s a feeling I know all too well – imposter syndrome.
According to The American Psychological Association, imposter syndrome “occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success.” People will often think their accomplishments are the result of luck – not ability, and often worry that others will expose them as a fraud.
I always assumed these worries I was having were because a) my anxiety gets the best of me or, worse, b) because they were all true. I had no idea this was a legitimate thing. When I realized that these thoughts I was having weren’t actually true, I started to wonder what I could do to shut that voice up. It’s a work in progress, but here are some things I’ve learned that might help you if you’re going through this as well.
As it turns out, there’s a lot of info out about imposter syndrome there because a ton of people deal with this. According to FastCompany, studies show that at one point in their career, 70% of people will deal with imposter syndrome. It's not just people you've never heard of. One that surprised me? Maya Angelou! She once said, "I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'" Maya. Fricking. Angelou. So, first things first, imposter syndrome is a real thing and totally does not reflect reality. You are kick-ass.
I’ve also found that the culture of your workplace plays a key role. I’ve been in positions where my ability was constantly questioned, and that only exacerbated the “I’m a total phony” voice screaming in my head. I’ve since landed at an organization that is the opposite – I’m trusted to not only do my job, but do it well, and my supervisor and management have faith in me. Make sure you’re in a place that provides the same environment. If you’re not, talk to someone you trust about the culture. I found someone in a former position I trusted and expressed my feelings towards and they helped restore my confidence and remind me why I was hired in the first place.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one knows everything, and it doesn’t invalidate your success or intelligence if you acknowledge that. Asking for help was super difficult for me in the beginning of my career – I assumed they would think I was dumb and therefore unqualified. Once I forced myself to kick those thoughts to the curb, I’ve realized that not only is my work performance better when I asked for help, but no one has treated me like I was inept.
Another thing Google told me to do (that I’m still working hard at) is changing my own way of thinking. You know that piece of advice that asks, ‘Would you say to your best friend what you say to yourself?’ Well, it’s a pretty good question. I would never think to tell one of my brilliant friends that they were frauds or that they didn’t deserve their success because it is so far from the truth. So why is it any different for me? And when the thoughts and worries creep in (remember, this one especially is still a work in progress!), I try and tell myself “If you wouldn’t say this to one of your friends, you cannot say it to yourself” before reaffirming that I’m a BOSS.
I definitely haven’t found a way to stop this imposter syndrome business, but I’ve found a lot of ways to quiet it down. After that meeting went well and he didn’t gawk at the “kid” sitting across the table from him, I told myself it was further proof that I’m not a phony. Don’t ever doubt where you are in your career or in life – you deserve the success you’ve gotten and will continue to get. Constantly remind yourself of the real truth – you’re kick-ass.
Please Note: Each blog is written by the individual author, and the views expressed may not be shared by all YNPN members.